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BIM Explained, For the Non-Technical

I don’t know about you, but I am one of those people who gets really excited about technology and all the things you can do with it AND I have a really hard time keeping up with all the innovation that is happening around me. Because I have heard a lot about "BIM" in the last year or more and every time I hear it, I have to ask myself, "What does that stand for again...?" I decided to take on a little research to find out more about it and put it into terms that are understandable for even the least technical of us (that’s me. That’s where I fit in).

What is BIM Anyway?

BIM stands for Building Information Modelling and in the simplest terms, it's making a digital model of a building. This digital model among other things, is a detailed picture of the building that shows what it will look like when it's built, information about how it will be built, what materials will be used, and how the building will operate.

BIM is a relatively new technology that has revolutionized the construction industry. The development of BIM has been a long process that began in the 1970s and has since evolved into a sophisticated tool used by architects, engineers, and construction professionals to help them make informed decisions about how to design the building so that it meets the desired standards, operates efficiently and building it so it meets the intent of the design.

Looking Back

The beginnings of BIM can be traced back to the 1970s, when the use of computer-aided design (CAD) was starting to become popular in the industry. However, it wasn't until the 1980s that the concept of a 3D digital model that could be used to simulate the construction process was first introduced. At that time, it was called "Building Product Model" (BPM).

In the 1990s (when I was taking building technology in school) the concept of BPM evolved into BIM, which was initially used to describe a digital representation of a building's geometry and structure. I remember learning to make 3D digital models in school, and I definitely experienced some of the early challenges with the technology. Nowadays, you just put the very basic information in and at the least, a rudimentary building will take shape. Back then, you had to put in a lot of data and every time I would end up with a combination of 3D and 2D, I’m not sure that I ever successfully fully rendered a full 3D representation of my designs. Maybe it was the technology, maybe it was the operator, I have my suspicions.

By the early 2000s, BIM had expanded to include information about a building's mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems. Today, BIM is an integral part of the construction process, and it has become more sophisticated and advanced with the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning. BIM software can now create detailed simulations of a building's performance, energy usage, and sustainability. This information can help architects and engineers optimize a building's design to maximize efficiency and minimize waste.

Why BIM?

One of the key benefits of BIM is its ability to facilitate collaboration and communication between the various stakeholders involved in a construction project. With BIM, architects, engineers, contractors, and building owners can work together in a centralized platform, reducing errors and ensuring that everyone is on the same page.

Now for those who may be more on the leading edge of technology you may already be familiar with these uses of BIM in our industry. So I wanted to go on the hunt for some of the less traditional uses and interesting ideas about BIM that are out there and these are what I came up with:

  1. BIM is not just for buildings - While BIM is most commonly associated with building and construction projects, it can also be used in other fields such as infrastructure and transportation. For example, BIM can be used to design and manage roads, bridges, and tunnels.

  2. BIM can help preserve historic buildings - BIM technology can be used to create digital models of historic buildings, which can be used for restoration, maintenance, and preservation purposes. This technology allows architects and engineers to accurately measure and document the building's dimensions and materials and create virtual models of the building that can be used to test different restoration and preservation scenarios.

  3. BIM can improve safety on construction sites - BIM can be used to create digital simulations of construction sites, which can help identify and mitigate potential safety hazards before work begins. These simulations can also be used to train workers on safety procedures and best practices.

  4. BIM is not just for large projects - While BIM is often associated with large-scale projects, it can also be used on smaller projects such as home renovations or interior design. BIM software can help homeowners and interior designers visualize and plan their projects in 3D, which can help them make better decisions about design and materials. A design-build contractor that I interviewed recently showed me how she uses virtual reality tools to show final interior and exterior spaces to her client before it is built. I think this is amazing because it will help to minimize changes during construction and thus saving time and money for everyone!

  5. BIM can help reduce waste - By accurately modelling a building before construction begins, BIM can help reduce waste and minimize the environmental impact of construction. BIM can help identify opportunities to use recycled materials, reduce energy usage, and improve building efficiency.

These are just a few examples of the interesting ways in which BIM technology is being used today.

What's in Store for BIM?

Looking to the future, BIM is expected to become even more integrated into the construction process. The use of artificial intelligence and machine learning will allow BIM software to make increasingly accurate predictions about a building's performance, and it will become easier to incorporate new materials and technologies into the design process.

I think back just 30 years to the technology that was becoming mainstream, and it is crazy how far we have come in such a short period of time. I heard someone recently say that in the next five years we will see an equivalent movement in technology that we saw in the previous 100 years. WHAT? Really? That seems a wee bit frightening to me given where we already are.

So, that got me to thinking, what could this mean for BIM in the construction industry? And I went on the hunt for some of the more innovative ideas where BIM could be used in the future. And this is what I came up with:

  1. Smart cities – I think this is really exciting because we can start to see a model of how city planning and infrastructure may actually work together. In this capacity BIM technology can be used to design and manage smart cities, where buildings, infrastructure, and transportation systems are interconnected and optimized for efficiency and sustainability.

  2. Digital twins – This I found an interesting concept and envision time crunching to predict future performance. In this way BIM can be used to create digital twins of buildings and infrastructure, which can be used for predictive maintenance, real-time monitoring, and virtual simulations.

  3. Augmented reality – This to me is where things get a little scary. It’s a fine line between using this type of technology to our advantage and it getting misused. With this possibility BIM can be used to create augmented reality experiences, where users can visualize and interact with 3D models of buildings and infrastructure in real-time. The lines between fiction and reality can become blurred.

  4. Artificial intelligence – As opposed to augmented reality, artificial intelligence in this capacity I think is a great tool. Anything that can help us save our most valuable resources – time and money. BIM can be combined with artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to create predictive models that can optimize building performance, energy usage, and maintenance.

  5. Off-site construction – I see this more and more already. BIM can be used to design and manage off-site construction projects, where components are manufactured in a factory and then assembled on-site. This approach can improve efficiency, reduce waste, and increase quality control.

The potential applications of BIM seem vast and varied, and I expect the technology will play an increasingly important role in the design, construction, and management of buildings and infrastructure in the future.

Through this process of researching and writing this article, I am excited to learn more and watch how BIM gets incorporated further into our industry and I can confidently say that "BIM" is now firmly rooted in my list of acronyms. What an exciting time for our industry!

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